Even the most spectacular outdoor getaways can be ruined by an uncomfortable night in a tent. Being unprepared has its consequences, and a night without a proper backpacking pillow may result in a painfully kinked spine. No one wants to see you emerge from your tent with a bent neck like some kind of horror movie monster.
While pillows may seem trivial and are often overlooked, they can make all the difference between sleeping like a baby and tossing and turning through the night. We spent countless hours taking afternoon siestas and sleeping under the stars on dozens of backpacking and camping pillows to narrow this list down to the best of the best.
We’ve spent many, many nights in the great outdoors and are happy to use our experiences to put together this Best Backpacking Pillows guide for you. I don’t want to see anymore creepy early morning wendigos walking the trail. Get a proper pillow below!
5 Best Backpacking Pillows of 2021:
We believe the Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow provides the perfect compromise between weight and comfort.
In the regular size — which is the size we’d recommend for all backpackers — this pillow weighs in at just 2.8 ounces (79 grams). That is amazingly light for how much comfort this pillow manages to pack in!
The brushed polyester pillowcase is soft to the touch, and much more comfortable than the material of a sleeping bag hood, dry sack, or other make-shift pillow. Couple that with the thin layer of synthetic fill located between the air bladder and the pillowcase and — for it’s weight — this is one plush ride.
The polyester material is also comfortable in sweaty or damp conditions. And although after a long trip the top layer may start to smell a bit funky — this can’t be blamed on the pillow! — and it’s easy to just hand wash this pillow with a little soap and air dry it. The thin pillowcase and thin synthetic mean that it dries in no time.
We believe the Aeros Premium is suitable for both back and side sleepers. If you are a side sleeper who has broad shoulders and/or prefers a thick pillow then you may want to consider the large size, or look elsewhere, but for most backpackers the regular size is fine. If you are exclusively a stomach sleeper, then this probably isn’t the pillow for you — but then again — perhaps no pillow is.
- Small pack volume
- Extremely lightweight
- Inflates with three or four breaths
- Some pillow wobble while sleeping
- Not machine washable
The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow may be the most comfortable on this list if foam support is what you’re into. Unlike the other pillows here the Compressible Pillow uses a lot of foam, and no valve inflation, to create a sleeping surface you can dream upon. The specs listed are for the “small” pillow, which is still decently sized, and competes in terms of height and head-resting space with other pillows on this list.
But, because it uses upcycled foam from its pad manufacturing process, the Compressible Pillow is much more comfortable and has almost none of the inflated-feeling that you get from air pillows. The Compressible Pillow is so-named because it can roll and stuff into itself — just crunch it down into the attached flap, then drawstring cinch it tight, and you’ve got a relatively small, fully foam pillow to carry.
You can use this packed-up pillow as a lumbar pad or thick headrest, making this the only pillow with a “packed” purpose on this list. All this for a 7-ounce pillow, which contends well with the competition. That said, the big downside is packability — the Compressible Pillow is much larger when packed than any pillow on this list.
If foam-based support is what you need, and space isn’t an issue, you can’t go wrong here. Especially for the price. Make sure to get the size you want, as Therm-a-Rest has pillows that range from Small to Extra Large (almost the size of your pillow at home!)
- Coordinates with other TETON camping products
- Retains Loft
- Pillowcase and stuff bag included
- Flannel pillowcase
- Only 12 inches long by 18 inches wide
The Therm-a-Rest Trekker Pillow Case follows the same philosophy, but in a much softer and more comfortable package — when filled and fluffed with the right clothes, it’s comfier than anything I have in my home (Is that sad?).
What’s more, because it’s not inflatable, it’s guaranteed to never pop. That reliability is reassuring, especially when stories of leaky inflatables abound.
At the time of publishing, the Trekker Pillow Case also has the lowest MSRP of all the options we tested. This means our Top Pick is also the option on the list that offers the most bang for your buck. It’s a great value all around.
The pillow’s comfort and support are reliant upon the clothes you stuff into it. If you want a soft pillow, you’ll need to bring soft or puffy clothes. If you want a firm pillow, you’ll need to fill it with multiple articles of clothing.
I stuffed my puffy jacket inside each night and loved it for the squishiness. However, Taylor, my boyfriend, found that a puffy alone wasn’t firm enough for his liking. And he actually prefers to sleep in his puffy jacket, meaning that he didn’t have many squishy clothes to spare for filling. If you’re like him, opt for an inflatable instead.
- Attached pillow pocket for easy carrying
- Variety of colors available
- Long lasting durability
- Only compresses to 20 percent of full size
- Must be fluffed hours before using for ideal comfort
With adjustability, padded foam, and lightweight design, this travel pillow has almost everything that you need for your next backpacking trip. For optimal portability, it compresses to a small ball for easier storage in the backpack. You don’t have to sacrifice any packing space for other important stuff. It is only 9 ounces, and you will never feel any additional weight on your shoulders.
The pillow has memory foam on one side to conform to the shape of your neck and back for comfort and stability. The inflatable chamber, on the other side, allows you to adjust according to your comfort level. A foam pillow is perfect for side, stomach and back sleepers. The ultra-soft pillowcase is not only comfortable, but also easy to maintain, and clean. Most people appreciate the multipurpose design that offers lumbar support on car trips or flights for a good night’s sleep.
On the flip side, the Nemo Fillo Inflatable Travel Pillow is a bit noisy when making any movements, and that can interrupt your sleep. The backpacking pillow is also not very easy to pack in its bag.
- Generous size
- Adjustable firmness and loft
- Soft cover does not sweat at night
- Can be cold to sleep on
- Air valve can be hard to operate
Backpackers concerned about carrying any extra weight may want to consider the Klymit Pillow X as it weighs only 2 ounces. This pillow which compresses to be about the size of a cigarette lighter becomes about the size of a bed pillow when fully inflated. In fact, it is the perfect size to fit in most mummy sleeping bags.
The X design of this pillow helps backpackers to keep their heads centered on the pillow all night long. A large valve on top of the pillow easily inflates with just a puff or two of air. Users can adjust the firmness of the pillow by adding or subtracting air. Buyers can choose between coyote, teal, red or camo.
The top of this pillow is lightweight 30D polyester aiding the backpacker in staying comfortable. Backpackers do not need to worry about this pillow tearing often because the bottom of this featherweight pillow is made of 75D polyester. This pillow comes with its own durable storage bag helping to keep the pillow compact until it is needed. Be careful when deflating this pillow as the X design likes to trap air. This can make it very difficult to get the pillow secured in its carry bag.
- Weighs less than 2 ounces
- Easily inflates
- Variety of colors available
- May be hot to sleep on during the summer
- Hard to deflate
Save Your Neck With The Best Backpacking Pillows
The obvious benefit of bringing a camping pillow with you on your outdoor adventures is that it offers greater support for your neck. A good-quality camping pillow will certainly provide you more stability than a makeshift pillow out of backpacks or clothes. Indeed, many of the products you’ll see below have been ergonomically designed to give your neck and head cradled support.
It should go without saying that anyone with back, spine, neck, or shoulder issues must invest in a travel pillow. You can significantly reduce your odds of waking up with neck stiffness if you use a pillow that’s expertly contoured.
Types of Backpacking Pillows
- COMPRESSIBLE. These pillows are filled with various foams and synthetic fibres or some sort of combination. They may be super comfy and instantly ready for your heavy head, but they are very bulky and can be much heavier than their inflatable counterpart.
- INFLATABLE. Take your pick – self inflation (blow up with your breath) or—for the lazy souls—you can get one that auto inflates (open a valve and let the pillow expand). You can adjust the amount of air for more comfort, but they can be noisy when you move your head.
- HYBRID. These are the best of both worlds, as they are a morphing of inflatable and compressible designs. A hybrid pillow has the fluff on the top to make it comfy for your head and an inflatable bottom to increase support.
- STUFF SACKS. Stuff sacks use your own clothing to inflate the pillow. You simply stuff your clothing inside the sack and lay down your head. When you wake up, you don’t even have to deflate the pillow. You can keep the sack filled with your clothing until you need them.
- Take your time if you have to inflate a backpacking pillow with your mouth. You don’t want to get exhausted or air it up too quickly and get winded.
- Clear the ground of all rocks, sticks, and debris before setting up a tent. A sharp object could cause the pillow to deflate.
- Using an air pump is a much more convenient and easier way to blow up a backpacking pillow. However, it might be too large or robust to pack in a backpacking backpack.
- To conserve space and weight, get a backpacking backpack to carry all of your gear. It is designed to hold specific equipment and provide a much more comfortable way to hike.